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The London Eye

Chris Neill suggests a new Christmas campaign for John Lewis and muses on why it's still better to give than to receive

Published on November 22nd 2011.

The London Eye

HE gurns. He frowns. He grimaces. He plays. The hours drag slowly. He pouts. He snarls. He drums his fingers. He squeezes his eyes shut beseeching sleep. Finally the day itself arrives and his wish is granted: he can heave from within the recesses of his wardrobe a badly wrapped gift and rush in and present it to his loving parents. 

The contents of this bundle have been the cause of much Internet speculation – his sister's severed head being a popular suggestion – but the greater surprise to me is that after all these weeks of fretting and anxiety he manages to sleep in on Christmas morning until there is daylight. 

We temporary staff were greeted by the permanent employees with all the welcome usually afforded to a squatter you might find has moved in while you were away during the holidays.

I don't remember many of my childhood Christmases, but a recurring theme seemingly unnoticed by advertisers at this time of year, is that children like to start the longest day well before dawn has even considered making an appearance. Maybe the nice people at John Lewis laced his supper of peas and sweetcorn the night before with a seasonal splash of gin? 

Christmas has many traditions around the world; some ancient and holy, others cultural. Food and the giving and receiving of small gifts and Xboxes are pretty constant themes wherever you are, but for some years now I have been of an age where the time of year is heralded by the sound of my mother's voice in my head as she exclaims, “It gets earlier and earlier,” and I reply, “I'm sure it's not due for another six months yet, at least.” I might have some Christmas cards printed up with this joyful exchange printed within. 

Department stores may have reached their high street zenith some decades ago now but still the admiring of or the disappointment at the window displays of Selfridges, Harrods and Harvey Nichols are part of London's November and December. 

LibertyexteriorIs this home to Santa's most ornery elves?

One particularly glum year I had a Christmas job at Liberty and spent the weeks up to the big day being sent from one department to another to help out. While the windows at this store looked beautiful behind the scenes things were less harmonious. We temporary staff were greeted by the permanent employees with all the welcome usually afforded to a squatter you might find has moved in while you were away during the holidays. 

I kept my head down and spent two interminable days in Haberdashery trying to follow alarmingly vague instructions along the lines of “do something festive with the zips”. It almost came as a relief to be seconded to the stock room where I spent another week moving hundreds of large and ugly Murano vases from one enormous area of stacking to another. It was the filthiest job I've ever had. 

By welcome contrast, the best Christmas as recalled by a man called Leonard with whom I got chatting on the train recently was in the late 1940s. His sister had recently married an older chap she'd spent much time with in the local air raid shelter during the war and they had moved to Chichester.

Leonard decided not to join his parents on their trip to the town and instead opted to stay at home on his own. He recalled he had a boiled egg for his Christmas dinner, enjoyed sex with his friend Nigel in his parents' bed in the afternoon, and best of all he unwound all his father's many clocks. For one day at least, therefore, he wasn't subjected to all their constant binging, bonging, chiming, clattering and pealing. It was, he assured me, the very nicest Christmas he has ever had. 

As narratives go it might not have the cuteness of a little boy on the cusp of sobbing with joy as he gives his mum and dad something potentially sinister bound in a shiny blue ribbon but with the seasonal mantra that to give is better than to receive at the forefront of my mind this is my grateful gift to John Lewis. Maybe they might like to use Leonard's story for next year's campaign.  Or maybe not. 


Chris Neill is a comedian, broadcaster and a native Londoner. You can make him feel more popular than he actually is by following him at @chrisneill on Twitter.

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